Isabelle Wenzel creates portraits of bodies, not people. Often posing for her own photos so that she is able to control every aspect of the picture, she is willing to put herself into difficult positions that run-of-the-mill models otherwise may not. Its unsurprising then, Wenzel was formerly an acrobat before an injury forced her retirement from such activity on a professional level. When not posing herself Wenzel cajoles close friends and family in front of her camera, though reveals she considers herself the perfect model – “communication becomes instant and the process becomes quicker”.
Her absurd and surrealist images predominantly feature women in awkward and cumbrous poses, often unflattering and faceless. Reducing the body to a responsive form, she uses it to capture movements and postures of anonymous posers in a frozen moment. Much the same as the spectacle of an acrobat, they entertain, delight and amuse – a feast of color for our gaze.
In her 2011 body of work Color Cocktail she explores the dream of flying, and bodies that turn into flying machines. In other works, such as Building Images (2010) she studies the movement of people in the office space. “I have never worked in an office and found it fascinating to see how functional and minimal the movements of people are in such a space”. Wenzel’s confesses her pictures all relate back to who she is —and was— her experiences and her life. During a period of convalescence following her injury she was forced to spend a great deal of time inactive – looking, instead of performing. She became interested in the form of the human body, not the classical nude study of life class, but the everyday and unremarkable clothed body. This perspective led to her taking up photography, studying in Bielefeld in her native Germany, then at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam where she graduated in 2010 at the age of 28.
Her images may appear to be casual shots, opportunist and lacking precision. Wenzel admits to a degree of improvisation in her poses, but they require a movement to be performed again and again until the perfect shot is captured. The surroundings are no accident either, meticulously planning and composing the situ of each picture to the nth degree. Unusual and striking color permeate much of her imagery and on the subject she is similarly decisive, “color articulates a mood, formulates something to say. And of course it can provide immediate attraction to capture attention”.
Retaining the energy and stamina of her earlier career, she admits to being hard working, constantly creating and searching for the elusive element to make the perfect picture. In little over five years she has amassed a considerable body of work, picking up a handful of prestigious awards along the way. She was awarded the Leica Prize in 2007 and in 2010 received a grant from Virtual Zoom for a photo project presented in the Virtual Museum Zuidas, Amsterdam. In 2011 she was awarded the Startstipendium – Fonds voor Beeldende Kunsten from Vormgeving en Bouwkunst in Amsterdam. And again in 2011, Wenzel was one of twelve young European photographers presented with the European Photo Exhibition Award 01.
TEXT by Paul Hetherington
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Bibliography and further reading:
Self Publish Be Naughty monograph by Isabelle Wenzel, 38 pages, edition of 250. Self Publish Be Happy, 2012.